Girls need their own private spaces—the push for gender-neutral change rooms is wrong

Feminists and women’s rights advocates fought for women’s rights to play sports and be recognized for that with equal funding and facilities. Now those protections are shrivelling on the vine.

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY

It’s not right to take women’s spaces. The new ruling in a school district near Chicago that allows “unrestricted access” by male-bodied teens to female-bodied teens’ changing facilities is unfair, barbaric, demeaning, insulting, and dangerous. Girls’ participation in sports was not always a given. It was assumed they weren’t capable, often they were forced by custom to wear clothes not suited for the task, such as dresses while riding side-saddle on horseback.

Feminists and women’s advocates fought for women’s rights to play sports and be recognized for that with equal funding and facilities. Now those protections are shrivelling on the vine.

Board members for the Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 in suburban Chicago voted with a 5-2 decision to undo restrictions against male-bodied trans students changing in privacy stalls within the girls’ locker room. Previously, the practice had been that male-bodied trans students could change in the girls’ locker room within a stall, and not out in the open. This decision changes that, saying that anyone who has formally requested access to change in the change room is allowed to do so openly.

While trans students celebrated this decision, girls cried. One athlete, a swimmer, said “I feel uncomfortable that my privacy is being invaded. As I am a swimmer, I do change multiple times, naked, in front of the other students in the locker room. And I understand that the Board does have an obligation to all students but I was hoping that they would go about this in a different way that would also accommodate students such as myself.”

Even in her defeat, she is understanding of the needs and desires of other students, she is accepting of them, though her own needs are being neither met nor acknowledged. Whatever the scientific and biological differences are or are not between men and women, the innate compassion and concern for others’ needs that women typically have is being used against them.

Radical trans advocacy does more than steal women’s spaces, it makes them beg for those spaces to be stolen, on the basis of heartfelt care for the needs of others. That’s why the women’s movement has been at the forefront of trans advocacy. They’ve been manipulated into believing that it is the fair, equitable, thing to do.

When the bathroom thing first started bubbling to the surface of the trans push into women and girls’ spaces, it was treated as a joke. I even said, flippantly, “who cares what bathroom people use?” I believed that people should use the bathroom where they feel most comfortable.

It came up in Virginia, and was scoffed at, and in New York, and pretty well across the U.S. and in Canada. It seemed silly, like scatological humour, like a bunch of fart jokes. We were wrong. It matters that people feel safe at their most vulnerable, and while that matters for everyone, I’m talking specifically about women and girls.

Like the swimmer in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, I wish the Board had gone about this a different way, one that would not isolate, demean, and embarrass female athletes. There are the full stall changing rooms available, but there are not enough for all those who need them in any given physical education period or swim meet. There are also boys changing rooms available.

But the Board thinks that to make boys change with other boys when they feel like girls would be too hard on them. I posit that this would not be harder than girls changing with boys present. It’s not fair for the extracurricular athletes, nor the girls who already loathe PE. As a kid, I would get nauseous at the idea of changing for a regular PE class, and there weren’t any boys present, just girls who had better bodies and already wore bras. Being a girl already sucks, and the Board of the Palatine Schaumburg High School District 211 just made it worse.

In making their decision, the Board brought up the problem of discrimination. “I myself have been the subject of discrimination all my life,” board member Ed Yung said. “I know what these people are fighting for.” But he doesn’t. Presumably, Ed Yung is not a gender minority, but an ethnic or racial minority.

There is, in fact, no comparison to be made between racial and ethnic discriminatory practices and gender discrimination. There are legal protections against both, but they are not even close to similar. Asian, black, white, Hispanic, and native men all have penises. The women in those groups all have vaginas. Skin colour or ethnic origin does not warrant separate changing rooms, while the ability to rape, assault, or damage another on the basis of their different reproductive composition does.

Not all sex-based access laws were reasonable, for example, the one that said women and men needed to drink on separate sides of the bar, but bathrooms, women’s refuges, and changing spaces are reasonable places in which to expect sex-based accommodation.

Many feminist women who believe in women’s rights believe that those rights should be extended to men who claim to be women. We keep seeing this happen, and we keep seeing the women who say “hold on a second” get insulted, labelled as prejudiced, fired from their jobs, released from the good graces of society. Yet those women who accept men under the protections set aside for women and girls have been completely blinded by a bastardized, maternal compassion that sees victims and needs to kiss all their boo-boos.

The fight for private spaces for women and girls is not about trans predators, it’s not about making sure that trans individuals have what they need, and it’s not about trans dignity. Fighting for the rights of women and girls to have fair accommodation is not about other people. It’s about women and girls, staking a claim to what they need, and demanding it. Women and girls are notoriously bad at saying what they need.

We’re called nagging, ball-breakers, bitchy. It doesn’t matter what names we are called, we need to stand up for women and girls to have private spaces, and we don’t need to justify why we need those spaces, it’s enough that we do.


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